ELO’s return to Houston provides perfectly arranged escapism
With his helmet of brown hair and goggle-like glasses the Electric Light Ochestra’s Jeff Lynne at 70 looks not unlike Jeff Lynne at 25, which is to say he’s always sort of like an ageless test pilot. His chasing of sound barriers wasn’t exactly dangerous work, but he was nevertheless set on pushing the four-minute rock ’n’ roll song to see how much it could handle before breaking up.
Lynne did, after all, name his band the Electric Light Orchestra: The implication being that three guys hashing out rock in a garage was all well and good. But his eye always drifted upward toward space.
Electric Light Orchestra hasn’t visited Houston since 1981. So when the classic rock band that serves as the musical prism for Jeff Lynne stepped into the Toyota Center Friday night, it was a bit surprising that Lynne was the most understated hero.
“Hello Houston,” he said. “It’s been a while. Let’s have some fun.”
And that was sort of it. Lynne was good for a “wonderful!” here or a “brilliant!” there and a lot of thumbs up. But he even outsourced the introduction of his band, because he said he wasn’t good at remembering names.
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That’s a quality you’d expect from a recording studio hermit. Which Lynne is. And a famous one at that — having produced hit records for Tom Petty, the Traveling Wilburys and George Harrison.
ELO’s absence further speaks to Lynne as a hermetic type. So I wasn’t sure what to expect once he came out of his bunker. Spaceship visuals, obviously. Because in the mid-’70s the spaceship took over for the lightbulb as ELO’s design motif of choice. Lights, naturally, because they’re not the Electric Stage Prop Orchestra. But his recorded music — “Strange Magic,” “Mr. Blue Sky,” etc. —possesses so little open space. It’s like a Tetris screen with the shapes beautifully and skillfully piled in just the right place. Would such music sound exsanguinated live?
Turns out it would not. I’ve seen a lot of late-tours by totems from the ’60s and ’70s, and struggle to recall an audience as spirited as this one. Some of that could be euphoria generated by scarcity. Disappearing from a town for 37 years will generate some enthused longing. And from the crash of drums, sounds of thunder and sweeping of strings on “Standin’ in the Rain,” Lynne and ELO faced an audience ready to hear these songs.
Click through the slideshow above to see some of those eager fans — with a few wearing ELO shirts — and click here to read the full review, which gets into how singable the night was for the fans.